Sorry and Thank You
Senator MOORE (Queensland) (1.49 pm)-I do not always begin speeches in this place by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land, though many people know that in most places I do. But I think today, in this discussion, is a time when we can because acknowledgement is the focus of today.
The word 'sorry' has been said-and it has been said a number of times here-and it has made a difference. That is the important element. But the word that I want to use most in my short contribution is 'thank you'. Thank you to the many Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, who have kept this issue on the agenda. From the time that the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission began their work on what later became the Bringing them home report, across our community there was a raising of awareness of what really happened to the Indigenous Australians who were caught up in a period of our history that we have tended not to acknowledge. The report also acknowledged what happened to people who were not Indigenous-people who were, as many speakers have acknowledged, doing things that were accepted. Through the Bringing them home report-and I know many people in this chamber and in the other place have read that report in detail-individual people had the courage and support to tell their stories, and through that storytelling an amazing awareness came to a large sector of our community. Out of that report came individuals who then told their stories more widely. Through that process, through various reconciliation networks across our country, there was genuine engagement with these people. That engagement spread from school groups to pensioner groups, to community areas where there was time and space provided for people to share their stories. That is the real value of the journey in which we are taking our own place today.
We have an awareness now that was not accepted in the past. We cannot hide from what occurred, but we have an opportunity to move this awareness forward by taking this step. Anyone who saw the candlelight display in front of Parliament House the other night with its statement, 'Sorry-the first step', knows it indicated that the debate was not over, that the discussions that were started over 11 years ago by the Bringing them home report, which worked across all areas of Australia encouraging people to come forward, will keep going. That is the strength that saying sorry today has given all of us. We have acknowledged that the journey must continue, but by publicly stating sorry, by that communication given today, we have taken one extra step towards that infrastructure on which we can build. That is why we are excited.
That is why today is not the day to talk about all the other things that have to happen. This is not the day to set up contrasting divisions, to be competing about who is more disadvantaged. Today is the day, as we should together agree, to make this statement-our Parliament House, our government, all Australians together, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, making this statement but acknowledging that the journey continues. No-one believes that there is going to be some magic effect today and everything is going to be better. Anyone who brings that argument into the debate is continuing to hide from the core issue. What we are doing together today is acknowledging the first step and acknowledging that there is so much more that has to be done. One of the key elements of that forward action is keeping all the stories that were told through the Bringing them home report and all the contributions that we have shared in this place and in the other place today together as a constant reminder of where we have come from, where we are today and where we must go in the future. That is the hope. But when you actually mingle with the people who really are the owners of today, those people who have told their stories and who now have the strength of and support from their parliament, you can see that they have the strength now to help us move forward with them. That must be where we go from today.
I urge people from across all parties to give the time and the space today for some celebration, for some acknowledgement, and then, maybe in different ways, we can continue the debate about what should and should not happen in the future and what the legal implications are into the future. That debate will continue-it must-but today is the day to acknowledge the 'sorry' statement. That recommendation from the Bringing them home report was not the only recommendation. It did not say that, by making an apology, that would be the end of the issue. What the Bringing them home report said was that one threshold element of our job was to make the apology, and we can do that. In fact it has been done today and we are in furious agreement that that was a good thing to happen. What we can now do is join with the people from Indigenous communities across the country-and, most importantly, deal with the school kids who have had the opportunity today to watch what has been going on in this place-and to regather our energy. One of the things that often happens in this place is that something that is really important today is left on a bookshelf in a library or pushed aside. That cannot be the legacy of our 'sorry' statement. The legacy of the 'sorry' statement must be the joint commitment to future action. What we can ensure today is that future action will be able to be done in a more positive way, in a way that engages all of us and does not have this element of unfinished business.
Through the process in the lower house and in the Senate today, through the agreed decision to make the statement-which has now become part of our government history, our parliament history and our community history-we have acknowledged what went wrong in the past, we have said that we think that was wrong and we as a parliament and as a government have said sorry. That is the challenge for all of us. I am sure there is going to be extreme discussion about what the next step should be to actually achieve those commitments and look at what must happen. When people have the opportunity to hear and read the contributions that have been made by various members of parliament and senators today, we will be able to develop a framework for moving into the future. I am very, very glad that we have made this statement today. I think the joy that has been expressed by people who told their stories in the Bringing them home report must give us the courage to take the next step-and remember: there are next steps. We hope that today's activity will be commemorated in a permanent way in this building, in our history, so that the people who wander through Parliament House and see the way our government operates will be able to see this moment in time and so that they can learn about what has happened in the past and share in whatever our community chooses to do in the future. The word 'sorry' is important-the statement 'sorry' is important-but I think that what we need to do is understand that from tomorrow we should be looking at the word 'action' and how we can work together. The reconciliation story circles that came out of the Bringing them home report had an engagement and education phase, but they also had an action phase about what we should do next. That is for future debate. Today we can celebrate, we can acknowledge and we can share with the people to whom, as a community, we owe the apology: 'Sorry and thank you.'